Parlez-vous français?

During the late 1990s, the USCC had the opportunity to host a “loaned executive” from Citibank-France, Bernard Partiseti, for a number of years.

He worked in our Finance Dept & soon became good friends with us (especially the group of guys…me, Neal Riebe, John Shank, Jim Tua, Rich Green, Dale Thompson, Steve Somen, Larry Holstein, etc…who regularly played poker every other weekend).

BTW, he soon became a charter member of the “Citi Smokers Club”, the tightly-knit group of employees who seemed to spend extraordinary amounts of time puffing away at the outdoor area by the old Bldg I cafeteria.

One day, I decided to join Bernard (with my cool Black & White mini-cigar) & I was blown away that he knew absolutely every person out there!!! There was always a crowd…I think they had a secret handshake, too!


When my wife, Laurie, started getting very sick again & was given a year to live in early Sept ‘00, I was given permission to work from home…an act for which I will remain forever grateful.

I was able to spend all my time with Laurie, taking care of her, with few exceptions.

But during that 12-month period, Bernard completed his assignment here & returned home to France with his wife & daughter. I didn’t have the opportunity to say good-bye & in fact, didn’t even know he was going until he had already left.

We stayed in touch, however, with phone calls & e-mails.

He started breaking my chops to come & visit with him in Paris.

As it turned out, the bank decided to close Citibank-France (there were only 6 branches in the country) & Bernard received a severance package. Their policy was way more generous than the one we had here in the States (where you received 1 week of salary for every year of service, plus an appropriate job search period).

Bernard, on the other hand, received 4 years of salary. In addition, he had recently signed a 2-year lease for an apartment right on the Seine River in Paris. They allowed Bernard to continue to live there rent-free for another ~18 months or so.

Not too shabby a deal, heh?

He also owned a home in Marseille, a port city on the southern coast, where his wife & daughter returned to live.

After the business closed, he immediately went out & purchased a brand-new, cherry-red Corvette. Considering that practically every other car in Paris was of the sub-compact variety, e.g., tiny Peugeots & Renaults, this “gigantic car” of his caught the eye of everyone around town.

In 2004, I finally made arrangements to visit Bernard. I used my American Airlines air miles to get a round-trip ticket to England where I would then take the high-speed bullet train to Paris.

I arrived in May, right before the French Open (tennis) took place in Stade Roland Garros. In fact, we saw tennis “bad boy”, Ilie Nastase, walking around on one of the side streets. The weather was beautiful, everything was pretty, but no one spoke English.

Bernard, naturally, was bilingual & my lifeline.

The very first night I was there (I stayed with him at his apartment), he made arrangements to meet up with two of his friends. They were of Arab descent (Paris has a significant Arab presence, as well as Russian. It was quite surprising to me.), one of them being the police captain in charge of the precinct covering the best area in the city (with the famed Champs-Elysées & all his famous shops…Louis Vuttion, Chanel, Givenchy, etc.).

Bernard was a VP in the area of Citibank that investigated financial crimes & fraud, so he often worked closely with the city/national authorities. Hence, his friendship with the police captain.

His friends brought us to some outstanding neighborhood restaurants, tucked away on some side streets, for dinner. We were warmly greeted by each owner & enjoyed some sumptuous feasts & outstanding wine…all on the house, no less!

We then headed to the most popular club in Paris, housed underground in a former Metro station.

When we arrived, the line waiting to get in circled the block. Hundreds & hundreds of Parisians anxious to gain entry.

And here we are, Bernard & I, with these two diminutive Arab guys, just strolling up to the front of the line like we owned the damned place. Didn’t take long for the heckling to begin!

That’s one thing about the French language…they could be cursing you, and all your ancestors, up & down & every which way, but it all sounds so nice & romantic!

We were initially stopped by one of the bouncers, but as soon as one of the managers recognized who we were, he waved us right in. In no time, we found ourselves sitting in the special, velvet-roped-off VIP section, with complimentary bottles of wine, champagne & liquor flowing freely.

“Hmmmm”, I thought to myself, “I can certainly get used to this kind of treatment!”

I then learned that our police captain buddy had invited 3 of his lady friends to join us that evening.

(Note: No, don’t get any silly ideas now! Seriously, they were his friends, not professionals.)

About 20 minutes later, in come the ladies. They were an absolute vision of loveliness.

On either side were a couple of very pretty ladies, one tall, one short, both dressed sharply.

And, in the middle, was perhaps the most gorgeous creature I had ever seen in my entire life!!!

Beautiful dark hair down to her shoulders, a black mini-skirt with a white blouse, legs that seemed to go on forever & a truly angelic face.

They came & immediately sat down with us as we exchanged introductions.

Ms. Lovely’s name was Sahra. They, too, were of Arab descent, but had lived in Paris their entire lives.

Everyone was talking & having a good time…but the conversations were all in French!

I was pretty much lost.

Bernard would turn to me with some quick translations from time to time, but I couldn’t understand a single word that the group was saying. Had they spoken Spanish or Italian, at least I would’ve been able to follow along somewhat.

Oh, well…

Suddenly, Sahra stood up & came over to me & asked if I would come dance with her.

In absolutely-perfect English!

That blew me outta the water, plus the fact that she actually asked me.

BTW, I don’t dance. Not at all. I can handle myself with the slow dances, but everything else is totally not my cup of tea. I am the prototypical white guy!

And, honestly, Sahra was SOOOOOOO totally out of my league!

But how could I possibly say no?

I took a huge gulp of my drink & headed out to the dance floor with her.

She was the best. Incredibly beautiful, but even sweeter than gorgeous.

After a few songs, we returned to our table & she sat right next to me.

“Would you mind if I showed you Paris while you are here visiting?”

After I picked myself up off the floor, I naturally agreed.

For the next 9 days, she would meet me every morning (with the car that I rented, but couldn’t drive, as it was a stick shift) at Bernard’s place & we’d spend the rest of the day together.

And a few nights as well, but there were no sleep-overs. In fact, once she said to me, “I would love to invite you up to my place, but we just met. As much as I would like to, I’m not sure that I would feel comfortable. I hope you understand.”

Never in my life have I ever been happier or more pleased by NOT having…

The girl had values, too. Very scary.

She worked for Vivendi, France’s mass media giant, headquartered in Paris, in the Finance & Accounting area.

When I told her about what I did, I happened to mention the time in December ‘93 when I worked past midnight on both Christmas Eve & New Year’s Eve as we were experiencing problems getting our Retirement Plan Services checks printed for our customers & out to our vendor for mailing.

She immediately replied with “Wow, something very similar just happened to me this past year at work. I, too, worked into the night on those days as well!”

Just being with her was pretty amazing. We had a lot of very similar philosophies when it came to business, working with people, families & just about anything we discussed. I swear, it was as if the Man Upstairs had purposely planted her right into my situation.

She brought me (almost) everywhere in Paris. The Louvre (where we saw the Mona Lisa amongst so many other incredible works of art). Notre Dame Cathedral. The Eiffel Tower. The Arc de Triomphe. The Boulevard Saint-Germain. Champs-Elysées. Quaint cafes & brasseries. Avant- garde art galleries. Incredible restaurants. Boat rides down the Seine.

Paris is truly one enormously-gorgeous city. Even ordinary buildings incorporated exquisite architecture & unbelievable features to make just walking down the block an unforgettable experience!

At Notre Dame Cathedral, we spent several hours, just roaming around, admiring the incredible artwork, statues & artifacts housed there.

It was stunning. Immense. Unbelievable.

The City of Paris comprises twenty administrative districts. Parisians call them “arrondissements“.

They are, for the most part, separate & distinct from each other in terms of ethnicity, economics, business, entertainment & often times, safety. Yes, there were several arrondissements that were omitted from our impromptu itinerary.

My very last night, we went to a piano bar for drinks & entertainment with Bernard & a few others…and thank God it was Bernard’s turn to pay that evening (we alternated throughout my stay).

Drinks were 28€ a pop, at a minimum. A small bottle of Coke 8€. And this was 16 years ago! (The euro was worth ~$1.18 at the time.)

Saying good-bye was very hard. There was a whole lotta crying & huggin’ goin’ on!

Not sure I’ve ever had a better time or a more unique experience in my life.

The city itself is amazing. The “simplest” of buildings could be an architectural masterpiece. The sidewalk cafes were so great.

Yes, prices were out of sight! One night, Sahra took me to this magnificent restaurant in a luxurious hotel.

I had asked her for the best restaurant in town & while she was a little hesitant, she agreed.

The bill came (over 300€ for the two of us!) so I gave the waiter my card & he swiped it right at the table with his li’l portable authorization terminal. I added a tip & he returned my card with the receipt.

THEN, she speaks up!

“You don’t have to tip the waiter. It’s not customary in France.”

“Now you tell me? I could’ve gotten you a nice purse for what I tipped him!”

We had a good laugh about it.

Actually, about 3 days later, a beautiful white leather purse from a store on Champs-Elysées cost me 6 times as much! (And, yes, she protested the purchase & asked me to return it. But I had seen her eyeing it earlier in the day, so I was intent on getting it for her. But it was the very least I could do to show my appreciation for one of the best times of my life.)

I hated leaving.

The following morning, I took the high-speed rail back to England & Heathrow Airport.

Funny thing when I arrived is that I couldn’t find my return flight back to the U.S. listed anywhere on the board.

The issue, as it turned out, was that although I originally landed at Heathrow on my flight from Chicago, I was actually booked out of Gatwick Airport for the trip home.

Thank goodness that I was super early so I had enough time to jump on the tube & make my way to Gatwick before my flight was even boarding.

All in all, it was the experience of a lifetime. Not sure if the beauty of Paris, coupled with my own personal tour guide, could ever be duplicated anywhere on Earth.

Hey, that’s what memories are for, no?

As always, thank you so much for listening!

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